Read stories and listen to testimonials of how God is transforming lives at FAC.


in the life of Marilee Pipes

No, God is not done with me yet.

I grew up in a loving family and have been a Christian all my life. I started playing the piano when I was five years old. My elementary and high school years were centered on music activities. I majored in music with an emphasis on special performance at the University of California in Santa Barbara. I have taught piano lessons since the age of 16 up to 2005. I have been an organist, concert pianist, and a choir director.

After college, I moved back to Walnut Creek, CA, where I was born and raised. I worked as an intern at my home church. I also worked with a Christian singing ensemble. We sang at churches and events in the area and in the state. After as an intern, I worked with a fellowship of pastors called Presbyterians United for Biblical Concerns. The organization was nationally based. I met my husband through that organization as he was a pastor at that time.

After we were married, we move to Paw Paw, IL, then two years later to Willingboro, NJ. In 1984, my husband started a non-profit organization, Salt & Light Company, to help homeless people. It started in the living room of our house. We now have 50 houses, condominiums, and small apartments that house women and men and families, and we cooperate with the Burlington Board of Social Services. Though our marriage ended, we both have continued to work with the organization.

The story I want to tell you began on Memorial Day of 2005. I had a massive heart attack. I was recuperating from a fusion on my right ankle and just felt yucky. I was thinking maybe I was just feeling the withdrawal from pain medicine, but the attack felt like a knife in my back. I was rushed to Virtua Hospital, where they saw that, indeed, I was having a heart attack. I was then rushed to Deborah Heart and Lung Center for surgery, where they were able to stabilize my heart. They resuscitated me twice, and then finally I was put on life support. They said that I only had 5% heart performance.

In 24 hours, I was moved to Temple University Hospital. Ten days later, on June 10, I had open heart surgery, and a VAD (ventricular assistance device) was implanted. Apparently, I suffered a stroke during that surgery. I remained semi-conscious for the better part of 16 days. I don’t remember anything from that time except little 15- to 30-second awakenings, where I just looked around at faces. When I finally woke up, I couldn’t talk.

My speech had been erased. All the words in Scripture I had memorized were gone. All the songs I used to sing by memory were gone. I knew and recognized the faces of my children, but I didn’t know their names. They hung pictures with their names printed across the wall, and I studied them every day. The first person I remembered was my son Kyle.

There was a short period when I had some irregular breathing. I was confused and puzzled about everything that had happened to me. One night when I was experiencing a lot of stress, my daughter Rebecca sang a song to me that I recognized but not by words, just the tune. Since it was closing time for visitors, the nurse, who is a Christian, told her she could stay for a while. And my daughter continued to sing the song, “I Love You, Lord.” I relaxed, and my breathing began to settle down. I finally fell asleep.

I was told that I needed a heart transplant. I had no idea when I would be able to get out of the hospital or when I would get a new heart. But during that time, even when there was confusion, misunderstanding, boredom, bad hearing, and not being able to read or comprehend much, there was a feeling of peace with it all. I believe that God protected me immensely.
By the end of the second week of July, I woke up about 4:00 a.m. when the nurse was checking my vital signs. There was a familiar song running through my head. That wasn’t a big deal at first because music was played all day in my hospital room. But this was different. I didn’t know the name of the song at first or the words. But the strangest thing was that I was thinking what the chords were supposed to be with the song. While I still could not communicate clearly with anyone and I was still being taught how to do the basic functions such as brushing my teeth, I could see and hear the music!

You see, the question that was running in my head, “Is there music there?” was answered! I knew music was there! Even during baths, still semi-conscious, the nurse would play a Christian CD, and I would “see” the songs. Something deep inside me would rise up and make it very difficult for the nurse to bathe me. She said I would conduct! When I had the stroke and woke up after the VAD implant, my speech was erased; my memorized Bible verses were gone; and the songs that I knew were gone. Everything that I knew was gone because of the stroke. When I was saying “Is the music there”, it was my head that said it, but my mouth didn’t open to say anything.

I started playing by tapping my fingers on the bedside table. Within a week, my children and their father brought in a portable keyboard. Every night after dinner, the portable keyboard would come out. One by one, nurses appeared in my doorway. Then a doctor or two. Then other patients. Their faces gave me hope that I could completely regain my ability to play. When all else was taken, the music remained.

On August 18, I came home with a heart pump machine. Family and friends were so patient with me, continuing to teach me words and sentences. I couldn’t read. Putting words together into a sentence was next to impossible. Sometimes I wondered if I’d ever get it back. But the music went on, and daily I got stronger, walking on my crutches, walking around the house, working on my “homework” from the speech therapist.

One of the doctors told me that the average wait for a heart transplant is at least eight months so that the recipient can get strong enough for the surgery. My call came on Sept. 28 at 4:00 a.m., just four months after the heart attack. First, my beeper went off. Then the phones in the house began to ring. My daughter Kristen took the call, and she ran around the house, waking everyone up and cheering!

No, God is not done with me yet.

We got to the hospital about 5:30 a.m. with my son Kyle honking his horn the whole way! There were tons of tests. Surgery wasn’t until 7:00 p.m. The heart is the last organ taken from a donor so for 14 hours we waited. I was excited and scared. I was also upset and sad because someone else was dying so that I could live. Then I remembered that someone else had already done this for me: my Lord did that for me so that I could be free. I reminded myself of His faithfulness throughout my life and from the beginning of the heart attack to this point. I would trust Him for what He would do. I was confident in Him and in the doctors through Him. I believed that God was not done with me yet.

I was on the operating table for 12 hours. They removed the VAD, removed my old heart, and implanted a new heart. Twenty-four hours later, I woke up with a new, strong heart! It was an awesome feeling. I had been living with a noise with the VAD, kind of like a weird breathing noise. When I woke from the surgery, it was quiet! Afterward, the doctor told me that usually when they do a transplant and the new heart is put in place, they have to massage it or shock it to get it beating again. He said, “Yours, as soon as it was placed and connected, started to beat right away!”

I have had to make adjustments to have a new, normal life. I take a lot of pills. I have to exercise, and I have to take precautions regarding food. But I now have the life I thought I might never have again.

So why has God given me 14 more years? I’m still not sure what He wants me to do. Perhaps He has given me 14 more years so that I could share this story of hope and God’s goodness with you. All I know is that I am a walking miracle. I truly live in and by God’s grace. There is no way to look back over the last 14 years and not see God’s hand of protection and faithfulness. And I am so thankful that He has preserved the gift He has given me.

No, God is not done with me yet. When I couldn’t pray, God knew what was in my heart. My prayer today is that He continues to use this gift He has given me to touch hearts and win souls for His Kingdom.

Matthew 11:28‒30 has been a comfort to me, especially when I was trying to grasp what had happened with the heart attack and the stroke. I knew God was there with me through it all. He took my burden and lifted it from me. During the weeks and months as I was recuperating, I had time to think about what God had done for me. Though I couldn’t get a lot of words out when I prayed, I know He saw my heart and my prayers.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30